* Before becoming a star running back for Texas A&M and top NFL prospect, Devon Achane was a standout sprinter for Fort Bend Marshall.
Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
The future of professional football will take center stage April 27-29 as teams add a fresh crop of talent through the 2023 NFL Draft. Union Station in Kansas City will host the 88th annual meeting of franchises to select newly eligible players for the upcoming season. All seven rounds of the draft will air live across ABC, ESPN and NFL Network.
|Day 1 (Round 1)||Thursday, April 27||8:00 p.m.||ABC, ESPN, NFL Network|
|Day 2 (Rounds 2-3)||Friday, April 28||7:00 p.m.||ABC, ESPN, NFL Network|
|Day 3 (Rounds 4-7)||Saturday, April 29||12:00 p.m.||ABC, ESPN, NFL Network|
The Draft highlight packages for each player will showcase the level of athleticism it takes to compete at the highest level of professional football. For many of the top prospects, those skills were honed on high school tracks and fields across America.
As specialization continues to become more prevalent in sports, many college coaches with proven records of sending athletes to the pros still prefer recruiting multi-sport high school athletes to their programs.
Multi-sport athletes have proven to get injured less often. A study presented at the 2017 American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine's annual meeting found that high school athletes who specialized had an 85-percent higher incidence of lower extremity injuries than high school athletes who played and trained in multiple sports. In sports, the best ability is availability.
Athletes who play multiple sports have been exposed to more and different coaching styles and have likely adapted their listening and observational skills to become more coachable. In 2016, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told the New York Times, "The different types of coaching, the different types of locker rooms, the different environments that you practice in, the different challenges--I think it develops a much more competitive, well-rounded type person."
Athletes with backgrounds in multiple sports are more likely to embrace competition. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been known to have potential recruits engage in non-football activities, including dodgeball, to observe how they perform and compete. He explained why to The Michigan Daily saying, "Some youngsters aren't playing multiple sports as much as they used to, so you'd like to test it. There's a lot of athletic reps you can take--you can climb a tree, and that's about as good of an athletic rep that you can get in terms of balance, strength, core, planning out what your next move is."
College coaches have also come to recognize that athletes who specialize early have often less room for development. In his 2016 interview with the New York Times, Swinney said, "I think sometimes you see some of these kids that specialize so early…they're much closer to their ceiling. I see it all the time; one sport since the fifth grade, and that's all they've done. They've been to every clinic, every camp, every teaching session, and everything's been squeezed out of them. There's just not that much room for them to get any better."
But many coaches, like Alabama's Nick Saban, Georgia's Kirby Smart and Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher have flocked to football/track and field dual-sport athletes not just for their speed -- have you ever heard them say "I recruit slow players" -- power and competitive mindset, but also because those athletes also come with a different level of accountability. Athletes with backgrounds in an individual sport are conditioned to own their performance for better or worse. It's them versus the clock or measuring tape, no one else to praise or blame.
A deeper dive into the NFL Draft rankings by Scouts Inc shows that exactly half of the top prospects this year have a track and field background. In comparison to the 2021 NFL Draft class and the 2022 NFL Draft class, that represents a slight downtick overall but year-over-year increases among the cornerback and safety position groups and an equal number among running backs.
|Scouts Inc Ranking Group||Total Athletes||Total Track & Field Athletes||Percentage||2022 Percentage||2021 Percentage|
|Kickers & Punters||16||2||12.50%||33.33%||16.67%|
Below is a comparison of the track and field makeup of each position group in Scouts Inc's rankings. You can learn more about the high school track and field careers of the players and follow their high school alma maters by clicking their hyperlinked MileSplit profiles.